Speech by Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne

Ladies and Gentlemen Ministers,

Ladies and gentlemen parliamentarians,

Ladies and gentlemen elected officials,

Madam President of the National Library of France,

Madam Director of the National School of Charters,

Mr. Director of the National Institute of Art History,

Today, with the reopening of the Richelieu site of the National Library of France, the thread of history resumes.

A story that finds its beginnings in the 14th century, in the first manuscripts of the Valois library.

A story that took a turn when François I instituted legal deposit. The book and creation now belong to the whole Nation. We are in 1537.

Since then, each era has contributed its stone to the building of the National Library of France. Colbert made it a tool in the service of the greatness of the King, considerably expanded its collections and installed it in the heart of Paris, rue Vivienne.

A few years later, Father Bignon opened the library to the public, organized it and installed it within the walls where we find ourselves. We are in 1721.

Then the centuries pass.

During the Revolution, the Library became national and the collections grew considerably.

In the 19th century, it gradually became the sanctuary of the French language, through the collection of manuscripts by great writers. With Victor Hugo, a long tradition of giving begins.

In the 20th century, necessity struck: a place was needed to match the collections, the expectations of the public and the culture of our country. François MITTERRAND launches the project of what he calls “the largest and most modern library in the world”. Following the mission entrusted to the historian André CHASTEL, Jack LANG then proposed to “kill two birds with one stone: the library of books in Tolbiac, a major art history center in Richelieu. The National Library of France will henceforth have two ties, on either side of the Seine, like a bridge between History and modernity.

Subsequently, the library continues its transformation, adapts to new uses and takes the digital turn. But at the same time, the state of the Richelieu site is worrying and the decision is made to close it to renovate it.

Today, we are in 2022, and after 12 years of work, the National Library of France is once again opening its doors in its entirety.

This project was long, but the result is there. The exceptional work of the architects, Bruno GAUDIN and Virginie BREGAL, supported by the chief architects of historical monuments Jean-François LAGNEAU and Michel TRUBERT, the landscape architect, Gilles CLEMENT, the designer Patrick JOUIN and all the restoration teams has enabled to bring life to this building of studies, culture and knowledge.

The Ministry of Culture, accompanied by the Ministries of Higher Education and Research, National Education and Youth, carried out this renovation, entrusting the OPPIC with the delegated contracting authority for the project. The BnF itself contributed to this, by mobilizing its teams, deploying its own funds and attracting sponsors. Over 3,000 individual donors have also pledged to fund this individual donors have also pledged to fund this project. I would like here to salute this exceptional combination of wills and thank everyone for their involvement and determination.

The renovated Richelieu site offers French people an open and accessible building.

Because our books and our written heritage belong to them.

The oval room, a real national treasure, will regain its original vocation as a space open to all, with free and open access.

The new museum of the National Library of France tells the intellectual and cultural history of our country.

As for the Vivienne garden, it will offer a new look at our heritage.

This Richelieu site stores 22 million documents, like so many gateways to knowledge.

It opens research rooms and forms, with the National Institute of Art History and the School of Charters, one of the new strongholds of knowledge, transmission and culture in our country.

The National Library of France is a place rich in many facets.

First of all, it is an exceptional heritage. It preserves the priceless treasures of our history, our science and our literature.

This heritage, we must give it to see, to consult and continue, as you do, to expose it.

It is then a place of memory. Here, we keep a record of everything, without judging, without hierarchy. It is the reader’s curiosity that guides him and leads him to

forge, book after book, your own conviction.

And this universal memory is not only that of books and manuscripts. It is also that of images, prints, maps, photographs and even digital content. Everything finds its place at the BnF.

It is also a place of research, of course. Here, we come to learn and compare knowledge. Generations of students and researchers have walked these walls, these shelves and these work tables. They will come back to it, in a few days, and we are delighted.

It is finally a model of innovation. The National Library of France has been showing since 1997, and the launch of the Gallica portal, the way towards mass digitization and the sharing of resources. Today, the BnF is also one of the leading digital institutions in France. Dear Laurence Engel, I know your determination and that of your teams to place you at the forefront of technological transitions.

Finally, and I would like to say that the National Library of France has a role of openness and emancipation. Public reading and study are keys to any enlightened democracy.

It is in the books that the questions, the answers and the knowledge are found which help in the construction of each citizen. It is in libraries that the critical spirit is born and grows.

The duty of the National Library of France, and, through it, of all the libraries of France, is to make books and the written heritage accessible to all, to reach the audiences furthest from reading and to adapt to everyone.

Decompartmentalising, sharing, transmitting: this is the meaning of the Richelieu project. This is also our vision for books and for culture.

We have made reading a Great National Cause, and acted forcefully for the book.

The implementation of the “library plan”, in close collaboration with the

local authorities, resulted in the extension of opening hours, an increase in the services offered to readers and an effort to train professionals.

The Culture Pass has been extended to all young people aged 15 to 17 and facilitates everyone’s access to books. It’s even his first use.

We will have to go further. We must continue this effort and provide renewed support to all those who contribute to the development of reading.

We are going to complete the implementation of the “library plan”, seeking to win over new audiences.

We are going to improve the conditions of access to books for people with disabilities and build an inclusive cultural policy.

We will continue our efforts in favor of the French language, which is an integral part of our heritage, and will carry out the Cité internationale de la francophonie project in Villers-Cotterêts.

We will continue to adapt the cultural offer to new uses, new technologies and artificial intelligence. The implementation of digital legal deposit will mark a milestone for modern creative preservation.

A year ago, here, the President of the Republic came to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the installation of the National Library of France on this site.

He had then warned against the temptation of “shrinkage”.

At a time when our world is experiencing so much upheaval, this reminder is all the more significant.

Faced with changes and faced with crises, it might seem tempting or even reassuring to withdraw into oneself. I would even say that some push us there.

On the contrary, I believe that the time has come for dialogue, for exchange, for common construction.

Our society is like this library, diverse, plural, overflowing with creativity and ideas.

At the heart of these books are many ways to understand and act for the society of tomorrow.

I am convinced that the same is true for each and every one of us.

We all have our role to play, our reading to give.

And just as books have changed the world, we too can invent the future, provided we act together.

Long live the National Library of France!

Long live the Republic ! Long live France !

Speech by Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne – Reopening of the Richelieu site National Library of France